In the past couple of years, our school has seen an influx of recently arrived Venezuelans. The crisis in Venezuela has been in and out of the mainstream news for the past couple of years as it worsens and as opposition leader Juan Guaidó has entered the picture.
Most Venezuelans that come to us are devastated to leave their country and have so much love for their once successful homeland that's now drowning. People are fleeing because they do not have the medical supplies needed to treat a basic infection or illness, there's scarce gasoline and food, and rising crime.
These are families who may have been middle class in Venezuela, but now cannot afford food to support their family. These supports below can be used for any student who is from a country in crisis.
1. Allow them to eat in class.
Some teachers don't mind it, and some forbid it. I'm a little in between, depending on the class and if they clean up after themselves, especially if it's close to lunch time and we are all starving! However, in the past couple of years I have had a few students who actually brought in full meals and huge snacks.
I had one student who brought in a full plate of leftovers in Tupperware everyday and would shovel the food into his mouth, hunching over as he ate. I honestly didn't have the heart to tell him to put it away after thinking about the possibility of not having food for extended amounts of time in Venezuela. As long as he was paying attention and engaging in class, I let him be and so did the other students. After a while, it started to subside.
I'm not saying to allow full meals in class, but think about letting the student adjust to having food at his or her disposal before banning it (unless it's a class distraction or attracting bugs, then that's another story!)
2. Don't get too upset when they have to miss school to go to court or visit with lawyers for asylum reasons.
A few of my Venezuelans were absent quite frequently. I found out that a couple were working late nights, but another reason was that they had to go to court or meet with lawyers regarding asylum. Gaining asylum can take 6 months to years, with plenty of paperwork and meetings to go along with it. Some students may be more fluent than their parents and may need to go to assist in translating.
3. If there is something extremely important going on in the news, let them take a minute to watch.
One of my students this year was particularly involved with the news and what was happening in Venezuela. He also really liked soccer. So when I walked in to class after being out for hall duty and he was on his phone and not doing bell work, I was a little irked. I figured he was watching a soccer match. But it turned out that he was watching live coverage of protests called "Operación Libertad," or operation freedom led by Guaidó. He was worried for the safety of his family still there since they were turning violent, and he actually had tears in is eyes.
I was so touched by the other students wanting to know what was going on and making him feel better that I just let them talk it out. Eventually we started, but it was definitely an abbreviated lesson and I figured we'd just catch up the next day. I think this experience made our classroom community stronger.
4. Integrate news articles from places such as Newsela.com or Readworks.org on the Venezuelan crisis that may go along with your curriculum.
Making your curriculum relevant to your students is one way to keep them engaged, but it also shows that you care about what's going on in their world. Newsela is great because the Lexile levels can be adjusted and a lot of articles are available in Spanish. Readworks has the option to play audio, and both have connecting activities such as text dependent questions and writing assignments connected to standards.
Another nice thing is that they both have connected texts that they can read with the assigned article. This makes for a great opportunity to analyze two texts together and turn it into a writing assignment!
5. Let them talk it out. Give them tools for discussion such as academic language stems for discourse.
Letting them talk it out like during Operation Freedom was a great chance to help my students form bonds, but we can up the rigor by turning these talks into activities like Socratic Seminars or Philosophical Chairs. I like philosophical chairs because it is a little better for smaller class sizes. The Venezuelan crisis is a great topic for this since the country is divided between two leaders: Maduro and Guaidó.
Activities like these are great opportunities for students to defend a position, practice using their academic language to defend it, and evaluate themselves and others on how they did. They can also write an analysis at the end and practice using their new vocabulary in writing. Then they will have worked in the domains of reading (the prompt and reading each other's responses, or a text connected to the prompt as well), writing, listening, and speaking.
What are some other ways you support your students who come from countries in crisis? Leave a comment below!
I teach high school ESL and peer coach high school ESL teachers in my district. I enjoy sharing my strategies and materials online and love learning new things from other teachers of Emergent Bilinguals! Let's learn together!